The limits of campaign rhetoric

President Obama took to the Washington Post’s op-ed page today to urge passage of the stimulus plan “before Congress.” Obama fails to address most of the major objections to that plan: for example, its pork-laden nature and the fact that, as compared to tax cuts, the spending spree will provide very little short-term bang.

Obama does acknowledge, obliquely, that much of the spending the Democrats propose won’t even provide medium-term bang and is not intended to. He counters that the plan is not just a “prescription for short-term spending,” but also “a strategy for America’s long-term growth and opportunity in areas such as renewable energy, health care and education.”

But Obmaa does not explain why spending programs for the long-term need to be rushed through Congress, under a suspension of the normal rules and with minimal debate, in the form of a stimulus package. Arguably, the money needed to stimulate the economy should be appropriated immediately in order to get us out of the recession. But there is no possible justification for appropriating the rest of the money on this sort of emergency basis.

Devoid, as it is, of analysis, Obama’s op-ed reads just like a campaign speech. This comes as no surprise. Obama’s accomplishments are limited mainly to producing and delivering this sort of set-piece. He knows how to campaign; he doesn’t yet know how to govern. Thus, in a pinch, he resorts to what has worked for him in the past.

Obama may also believe that, by advocating the stimulus package through forceful, campaign style rhetoric, he can rally ordinary Americans and strike fear into the hearts of moderate Republicans, that vanishing breed. But ordinary Americans don’t read the Washington Post’s op-ed page. And moderate Republicans are more likely to be won over by concessions to fiscal responsibility than by “yes we can” rhetoric.

Obama concludes by warning that Americans have run out of patience with “partisan gridlock” and want to see Washington “pull together.” Yet this is precisely the standard that the public sees Obama failing to meet as he rolls over for Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. If anything, Obama’s rah-rah, “let’s- pass what the Democrats have served up” op-ed will reinforce, rather than combat, this perception.

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